March 18, 2016
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
- Justin Thomas' Titleist Vokey Design SM6 pitching wedge. (Jonathan Wall/PGA TOUR)
DORAL, Fla. — During a recent stroll down the practice range at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, something became very apparent — a number of high-profile names on the PGA TOUR carry something other than a stock pitching wedge.
What exactly is a "stock pitching wedge,” you ask? If you've ever purchased a set of irons, it likely came with a wedge that looked very similar to the rest of the clubs. For the most part, very few recreational golfers consider the idea of swapping their stock pitching wedge for something else.
However, when it comes to Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, just to name a few, all carry something other than what's offered with their iron set. The most common replacement is a wedge that, for the most part, is more in line with their sand wedge and lob wedge, in terms of design and technology.
If you've ever wondered why some professionals use a Vokey or Cleveland RTX 2.0 over the standard pitching wedge in their set, the best place to start is in the looks department.
During recent discussions with Spieth, Thomas and McIlroy, all three said they liked having a pitching wedge that had a similar look to their other wedges at address.
That means for someone like Spieth, who uses a 46-degree Vokey Design SM6, his pitching wedge doesn't feature the cavity-back design currently found on his Titleist 714 AP2 irons.
"I've just always preferred the more compact head shape when I'm looking down at my wedge," said Spieth. "I guess it's a confidence thing for me. I want something that has a certain look that's similar to my other wedges. Vokey did a great job with the look of the new SM6, which made it an easy transition when I switched the end of last year."
Feel and control also play major roles in the decision-making process. Unless a player is using a set of muscleback irons, most stock pitching wedges are designed to max out distance and forgiveness. That meant players who used a Vokey pitching wedge were sacrificing distance for better feel, control and flight.
"For the longest time, we struggled to get guys into Vokey pitching wedges," said Vokey Tour rep Aaron Dill. "As wedge designers, we're looking at proximity instead of distance. Whereas club designers are always looking to get as much distance as possible."
For someone like Rory McIlroy, sacrificing a few yards in the short game department for control and feel was an easy decision.
"I feel like with the current equipment in my bag, I'm long enough to the point that I have mid irons and short irons in my hands on a lot of holes," McIlroy said. "I don't need a forgiving pitching wedge. I need one that feels good in my hands and is going to be able to hit a bunch of different shots with different flights."
While most wedges are roughly 3-4 yards shorter than their stock pitching wedge counterparts, some designers have found innovative ways to gain that distance back.
Vokey, for instance, introduced a progressive center of gravity (CG) design in its 46-, 48-, 50- and 52-degree wedges that has a thinner topline and raised lower section that lends itself to a low CG location, increasing ball speeds by 1.5 mph.
That translates to an extra 3-5 yards. In addition to boosting ball speeds, the low CG allows the wedge to blend perfectly with the aligned progression from a standard iron set.
"We have a bunch of players who use a Vokey pitching wedge over the one in their set because it offers a bit more feeling, so we wanted to make sure we found a way to add that distance back in SM6," said Bob Vokey, Titleist's wedge guru. "We've seen a bunch of players add one to their bag since we released them in Las Vegas."
Of course, there's more to a pitching wedge than looks and distance. There's how the wedge sits on the turf and the fact that, due to the softer head material that's used on most wedges, it's easier to grind than the stock wedge that comes in a set.
Having the ability to choose from a variety of grinds made it easier for Justin Thomas to concentrate on other aspects on his pitching wedge — like finding one that negated fliers from the rough.
The flyer lie is one of the most unpredictable in golf and occurs when ball is partially buried in the rough. At impact, the ball tends to travel farther than the intended target with less spin. It's a shot TOUR players try to avoid at all costs.
"The benefit of going from a stock pitching wedge to a Vokey pitching wedge is that extra groove is helping reduce fliers from the rough," Dill said. "So it's more consistent coming out of the rough with a lower flight. You don't see a massive increase in spin, which is something these guys want. They want just enough spin to get it to stop, but not so much that it's going to drive on the green."
Unlike his 716 MB pitching wedge, Thomas found it was easier to manage fliers from the rough with a 46-degree Vokey SM6. The wedge also gave him the ability to hit a variety of shots around the green.
"I use [my pitching wedge] more so from out of the rough just to get a little bit more spin when I'm coming into the green," said Thomas. "Pitching shots and chipping around the green as well, it just gives me a level of versatility that I wouldn't get if I used the pitching wedge in my set."
The next time you're in the market for a set of clubs, take a page from the pros and consider your options. For most recreational golfers, a stock wedge is probably the best option. But if you can't find one that works, just know there are plenty of options out there that can help you get the ball closer to the hole.